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>I see some great responses, but I wanted to add that you have to keep in mind that tons of people have actually tried to make a better system, and nobody has succeeded. That should give you enough pause to ask why and consider the possibility that the system we have is really good in a way that you haven't recognized yet.

I think that this is the incorrect way of looking at it. I suspect it is less that the traditional notation system is highly evolved and effective, and more that getting a critical mass of musicians to transition/relearn/teach/translate into a newer system is incredibly difficult.

For instance, while Imperial units aren't without some advantage, they are pretty generally inferior to the Metric system. But the US hasn't really switched because it requires a significant level of coordination and control that simply isn't easy to access. And getting musicians to learn and teach a brand new, objectively better system would be much much harder.

The current system is 800 years old, and over that time it has won over hundreds of different systems. A new system is proposed every now and then, and even though they might be better in a specific problem domain (say, microtonal music), but they always fall apart.

I have thought a lot about the problem (worked as a professional bassoon player for a very long time), and I can't say I have had many good ideas. There are some ideas for simplified music notation (with different shapes for flats and sharps) which work _very_ well for making sight reading easier. Until it doesn't: It can't express enharmonics (different ways of writing the same note), which makes tonality analysis harder, and can actually hamper readability since most people that are fluent in reading music usually "stay in key" when reading music.

A quick google gave me this: http://musicnotation.org/ and I can't say I am very impressed by anything I see there. But as you notice, most systems are oriented by lines. I don't think that is because people lack fantasy, but because it is a pretty good way to write music.

What do you think about parallel visualization? Right now, musical notation strives for a single notation that tries to encompass the entire work—and to also serve as a canonical, lossless transcription of the work, from which it can be recovered.

If you drop that requirement (and then assume digital storage) you could have 1. an underlying canonical format that has "all the information" but which is never presented to the performer, nor to the composer; and 2. a number of views that expose various dimensions of the composition. Like orthographic projections of a model in CAD software.

Presuming an interactive display (touchscreen, etc.) you could switch between these views at will; but even for printed sheet music, you could just isolate one measure at a time and then display several "stacked" views of that measure per page.

(Basically, picture widely-spaced, annotated sheet music, but where the annotations are themselves in the form of more musical notation, rather than words, appearing in additional sub-staffs attached to the measure.)

"Right now, musical notation strives for a single notation that tries to encompass the entire work—and to also serve as a canonical, lossless transcription of the work, from which it can be recovered."

I don't believe this to be true. (Modern) Guitar Music is most often written in tab often without accompanying staff notation. Also staff notation is not loseless, musicians will interpret the music differently. For example, with violin, whilst some instruction is given on bowing it is almost never complete and the musicians will find different ways to fit the bowing to the rhythm, this can make a huge different to overall tone as (most simply) the up bow sounds distinctly different to the down bow.

I do think this is the direction it is heading. There are new "smart" music stands coming to the market now with similar features.

Conductors can write notes about certain parts that can be accessed by musicians. Opera musicians (where different people play the same music every night) can have their own personal notes.

Most exciting is ofcourse that everyone has instant score access. That removes a shit-tonne of time wasted during rehearsals.

Those are just traditional use cases. I'm excited to see what will come. I don't know ifusic as it is practicedtoday can be "expanded" in any meaningful way, but that only time will tell

I think this is a great idea as part of a learning tool, being able to simultaneously visualise a musical idea on a score, in guitar TAB, woodwind fingering, piano roll etc.

I've got a plan on the backburner to do something like this using Ohm https://ohmlang.github.io/

You have a great point, that getting the world to switch would be very very hard. But it's not black and white, you can't compare that to anything.

If there's a viable alternative to music notation that you know of and is superior to what we know as standard western notation, feel free to share.

Your choice of example is interesting, considering metric has won, and the US is switching slowly.

But there is no incorrect way of looking at it, music is an art. Standard notation is highly evolved and effective, it has been iterated on for millennia. Getting a critical mass of musicians to learn a newer system would be incredibly difficult. Both are true, and you can't compare them and say that one is "more", that's flatly not true in any meaningful sense.

I hope people don't think I'm being brusque here, but these comments are a classic case of an outsider looking at the system, admitting to be lazy and wondering why the rest of the world differs from their expectations vs. asking musicians what they think.

At its core, musical notation is succinct: a mixture of logic and unique symbols. Note markers are isomorphic to pitch. Rhythms subdivide with vertical lines. Special symbols and brief phrases denote beginnings, ends and loop points. (They're not usually in English) Geometric figures indicate volume and speed changes.

A competing system in my purview is "tracker" notation. It's vertical and generally only used on machines, but hand writable: It looks like: C-3 Eb3 G-3 Bb3

I have the same feeling. Music notation might be hard to interpret sometimes, but none of the alternatives actually solve anything. They do however introduce a whole lot of questions.

I think a valid comparison is the regular alphabet. It is, after all, a coding system for language in the same way that notation is a coding system for music. Most of the problems of that coding system (my pet peeve is english spelling) generally stem from conventions rather than problems with the alphabet (italian and german is much easier to spell correctly).

There might be some interesting alternatives (hangul!), but those systems come with their own share of problems and generally have no big benefits. I actually believe that musical notation is better fit for it's task than our current coding system for language.

> the US is switching slowly.

As a US citizen who is a metric fan and loves using it, in what way? The government did switch - in the 70s - according to its own statutes, it had to.

It has crept up in various places (and I find it hilarious) innoculously, like in 2 liters of soda, or in how computer processors are talked about in mm² die areas.

But the average American still uses imperial units religiously, anywhere they approach a problem involving any unit of measurement they always default to imperial, and having a 14 year old brother I see no change in his education or habits to indicate a slow transition of mindshare. The government moved decades ago, but the people aren't moving at all.

I get the impression it is much like high school language classes - you learn it once early on, never practice it, and by the time you are a full adult you have completely forgotten it. I'm not sure how to improve the situation to actually get the people to start using international standards, because if you were to start trying to force it on the supply side people would just not buy metric tools and information because they forgot it back in primary school.

I think the way to switch would be done the same way other countries have done so:

1. Make sure everyone is educated in metric

2. Change the easy things: the paper size the government uses, the units on food labels, the measures legal to use for sales of loose food or other goods, the units the government uses for all types of reporting. (Therefore if businesses want government contracts, they'll need to use metric.)

3. Change other standards, like residential construction, preferred fasteners, wire sizes. Where old measures are required for compatibility, write "24.5mm" in the standard. If the dimension could be changed to 25mm without any side effect, use that.

4. Change other things people see daily: I don't know if doctors use metric in the US, but I assume they communicate to patients in old units. Change the default, but accomodate older people. Change the road signs. Is anything left?

The UK is part way through 4, but has been stuck there for decades.

Musicians frequently get taught music in large batches at schools, though, which means you don't have to worry about network effects—there are choke-points in the network.

There's no reason a given school couldn't teach a "colloquial notation" first, with the "Lingua Franca" musical notation taught later on, for everyone in that given school. Then everyone who comes from that school would know that colloquial notation.

Consider: the "Chicago school" of Economics; "Rugby School" football; etc. These things start as colloquialisms, then spread to global awareness.

England had a colloquial notation, taught in schools, for several decades: tonic sol-fa. But it could only talk about melody and rhythm, not harmony. It fell out of mainstream use in the late 1960s, perhaps as the music publishing industry consolidated and globalized, making it easier to have a single international edition of each song instead of separate editions by country.

Music notation is to music as qwerty is to keyboards?

No, qwerty for keyboards is more like the lay out of the 12 notes on an instrument, and there are many instruments.

Music notation is more like a programming language. The score is like a program that you can read/interpret and play.

For instance, while Imperial units aren't without some advantage, they are pretty generally inferior to the Metric system.

You say this pretty matter of factly, but I actually vehemently disagree. Many imperial measurements are better than their metric counterparts for day-to-day lay usage.

- Fahrenheit is a better scale than Celsius - Inches, Feet, & Miles are very practical units. Centimeters, and Meters much less so. - Pounds are smaller and offer better delineation than Kilograms. - Liters are pretty similar to quarts, though I admit the various Imperial sub-units are annoying.

Sure, it's easier to convert between metric scales, but the number of times I actually do that?: approximately zero.

“In metric, one milliliter of water occupies one cubic centimeter, weighs one gram, and requires one calorie1 of energy to heat up by one degree centigrade—which is 1 percent of the difference between its freezing point and its boiling point. An amount of hydrogen weighing the same amount has exactly one mole of atoms in it. Whereas in the American system, the answer to ‘How much energy does it take to boil a room-temperature gallon of water?’ is ‘Go fuck yourself,’ because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities.” Wild Thing by Josh Bazell.

That's great.

When is that EVER useful to the layperson?


You don't really give any reason why Fahrenheit is a better scale or why inches, or why feet and miles are particularly practical units. It seems to me that people say this simply because they are used to them. You don't convert to metric units and it feels awkward because you don't use metric units.

There is an issue with "kilometer" being a complex word for everyday use (as compared to a mile) in the English language. That's more a linguistic issue that about the unit itself. Other languages have solutions to that with shorter colloquial name for the unit.

Of course the imperial units give a good opportunity for being funny, in ways like specifying speeds in furlongs per fortnight. But you can do the same in SI-derived units, like parsecs per picosecond.

> There is an issue with "kilometer" being a complex word for everyday use (as compared to a mile) in the English language. That's more a linguistic issue that about the unit itself. Other languages have solutions to that with shorter colloquial name for the unit.

Even in English people of a certain age can say "klicks" and be understood.

Exactly, it's something that mass usage will solve, even if the folk song will not sound just the same with "a hundred klicks, a hundred klicks, I am five hundred klicks away from home".

Other languages often say just letters "k" or "km".

Inches, Feet, & Miles are very practical units. Centimeters, and Meters much less so.

Really? Do you know how much easier it is to compute surfaces and volumes in metric systems compared to imperial? Concrete example. Figure how much soil you need to buy to fill a box knowing L, W and H. In metric it is a 10s process. In imperial i do not even know how you are supposed to do it. Does anybody even know how many quart are in a cubic foot?

> Does anybody even know how many quart are in a cubic foot?

They know it, after they do the conversion, via metric system.

(OK, nowadays you can just enter "1 quart to cubic feet" in Google. And the funnier ones you get at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_humorous_units_of_meas... )

No, I don't know the number of quarts in a cubic foot, but no one does because they're two different measurements for two completely different uses.

No wonder that you miss the point of metric units if you don't get why doing such transformations is useful.

In the metric system, converting between length, volume and weight is trivial and straightforward. This comes into play neatly whenever you need to pile up a precise amount of batter or liquid from containers measured with a different unit.

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